Prostate Cancer For Dummies
Screening and testing for prostate cancer are important for early detection and treatment. You can talk with your doctor about any concerns you may have, like prostate cancer treatment and side effects, finding a good specialist, and support from your partner, family and friends.
Prostate Cancer: Essential Screening and Testing for Men
Prostate cancer is often curable, if the disease is diagnosed and treated early (before the cancer spreads). The following diagnostic tests should be done with your annual physical exam starting at age 50, or earlier if you have a history of prostate cancer in your family.
Digital rectal examination (or DRE): The doctor inserts his lubricated finger into your rectum to feel for lumps on the prostate, which is normally smooth. Nobody likes this test, but it can be a life saver.
Prostate specific antigen (PSA) test: This blood test shows if you have elevated levels of PSA, which may indicate cancer is present.
If your digital rectal exam, PSA, or other indicators (such as urinary symptoms) point to the possibility of prostate cancer, you’ll see a urologist, who will order some or all of the following tests. Use this list to keep straight the name and purpose of each test:
A biopsy: The doctor will remove tissue samples from your prostate to be checked for cancer. You can’t know if you have cancer until a biopsy is done.
An ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to check for the presence of tumors. The doctor may use an external ultrasound in addition to the internal ultrasound (transrectal probe) used as part of the biopsy.
A bone scan: Some doctors also perform a bone scan in addition to a biopsy, to check whether cancer may have spread to the bones.
Finding a Cancer Specialist and Asking Questions about Prostate Cancer
If your primary care doctor says you may have prostate cancer, he will want you to see a specialist, usually a urologist, to prescribe treatment and to answer your questions. When looking for a qualified specialist in your area, use these helpful tips:
Ask your doctor for a referral.
Ask your dentist, your chiropractor, and others in the general health care field for recommendations of doctors.
Check out information about physicians on the Internet.
Talk to other people who’ve undergone treatment for prostate cancer, in your family and at work.
Be sure to ask your doctor the following questions about treatment if you are diagnosed with prostate cancer. If you are uncomfortable asking the questions, have a family member or friend ask your doctor for you.
"What treatments may be best for me and why?"
"How much time can I take to decide on a treatment?"
"Is nerve-sparing surgery an option for me, so that I can have a good chance of staying sexually potent?" (assuming surgery is recommended).
"Should I have radioactive seeds implanted, external radiation treatments, or both?" (assuming radiation treatments are recommended)
"Do I need to consult with other doctors? If so, what kind of doctors should I see and why?"
How to Deal with Side Effects of Prostate Cancer Treatment
The possible side effects of prostate cancer treatment cause most men to worry. The following information can help you talk to your doctor about overcoming and controlling the side effects that may accompany treatment for prostate cancer:
Impotence: If your doctor recommends prostatectomy surgery, ask him if nerve-sparing surgery, which can often preserve the ability to have erections, is an option for you. Also, if you do experience impotency after treatment, talk to your doctor about good solutions (such as Viagra, vacuum pumps, injections, and penile implants).
Incontinence: Your doctor can prescribe drugs that will relieve you of the constant feeling that you have to go --- right now! You can also practice bladder exercises such as Kegels, which strengthen your bladder muscle. If the problem is severe, surgery to implant an artificial bladder sphincter can help resolve it. This should get you urinating normally again.
Fatigue: If the problem is fatigue (and often, it is!) make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Also, a simple exercise regimen or regular walks can counteract tiredness. If fatigue stems from cancer-fighting drugs, ask your doctor about medications to combat your fatigue.
Irritability, mood swings, and depression: Overcome emotional problems with therapy and support groups. Often your doctor can prescribe medications that can help.
Tips for Partners of People with Prostate Cancer
It may feel like the world is falling apart if your partner is diagnosed with prostate cancer. It is scary for both of you. Here are some tips for you to help your partner as he struggles with prostate cancer.
Be supportive. Let your partner know that you hate the cancer, too, and that you’re going to be there to help him fight it.
Offer to go with your partner to see the doctor. If he is still upset over the diagnosis, he may miss half (or more) of what the doctor says. If you go to the doctor with him, you can take notes and ask a few questions.
Realize that your partner will likely have at least a few weeks (if not months) before having to decide on a treatment. Take that time to help him gather information about treatments, support groups, and specialists.
Convince your partner to take timeout from thinking about prostate cancer. Take in a football game or movie, walk in the park, or do other activities you enjoy together. Replenish your mental energies so that you’ll be better prepared to tackle the disease, treatment side effects, and long-term prognosis.
Take some time out just for you — go to a movie or eat out with friends. Don’t devote all your time to thinking about resolving your partner’s prostate cancer problem. You’ll burn yourself out, and that won’t help him or you.